Nutter proposes potential firefighter budget cuts to fund arbitration

Finance Director Rob Dubow
Finance Director Rob Dubow
Posted: August 11, 2012

The Nutter administration avoided a showdown with its financial overseer Thursday by adding a postscript to its five-year budget indicating how the city would pay for any salary and benefit increases for firefighters.

The addendum says drastic cuts would fund an arbitration award the firefighters won in June. Those cuts would include hundreds of layoffs, the slashing of library hours, and the closure of a health center, according to Finance Director Rob Dubow.

Mayor Nutter has appealed the firefighter award for a second time - the firefighters have not had a new contract since 2009 - and did not include money to cover the latest award in his required five-year forecast.

Board members of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), which must approve the city's annual five-year plans to keep state funding flowing to Philadelphia, balked at not having a way to pay the firefighters.

The PICA board was scheduled to vote on the plan at its meeting Thursday, but delayed action until the five members could consider the new information.

One member, Sam Hopkins, scoffed at the addendum.

"I am not impressed with this list of cuts as being responsive," he said. "I consider it a political scare technique that it would be a great disservice for PICA to accept in the five-year plan."

Board Chairman Sam Katz said he hoped such reductions would not be necessary.

"It would be draconian for the city to have to implement that level of cuts," he said. "I suspect there will be other options that we discuss over the next couple weeks."

Katz said he hoped to call another PICA meeting within two weeks.

The addendum was a document assembled this spring during the budget process, when city departments were asked how they would reduce their budgets by 2 percent, 4 percent, or 5 percent.

The city contends that the firefighters' contract would cost more than $200 million over five years, pushing the budget into the red. The 5 percent departmental cuts would free up $260 million.

"We don't want to implement anything," Dubow said. "This is what we think we would have to do."

The addendum shows the Fire Department losing as many as 108 positions, by far the most of any department. The Streets Department is next with 59 positions.

The addendum does not suggest any trims from the Police Department. Dubow said that's because the police force is understaffed while some crimes, including homicides, are increasing.

The Fire Department, Dubow said, "is one of the largest budgets, so it's one of the largest places of cuts."

Bill Gault, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, called the proposed reductions "crazy" and said they would put firefighters' lives in peril.

"It seems to me this administration is very vindictive," Gault said. "What they've decided to do is keep stalling this and stalling this."

City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who this week called on PICA to vote down the five-year plan, said a list of cuts did not constitute a plan to fund the firefighters' contract.

"First of all, are they saying what they'll actually do?" he asked. "And, if they do, would it add up?"

He also noted that the administration had suggested the rolling closure of libraries and deactivating fire companies, proposals that "we know create public resentment."

The PICA meeting - normally a staid affair held in the authority's conference room - was packed Thursday with reporters, Council staffers, administration officials, and a large contingent from Local 22.

Also present were Herman "Pete" Matthews and Cathy Scott, the presidents of AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, the city's blue- and white-collar municipal unions.

Both have been without new contracts since 2009. Unlike public-safety employees, who are barred from striking, their disputes are not settled in arbitration.

In addition to failing to show funding to the firefighters, the five-year plan anticipates $50 million in overall workforce savings.

Katz and others have questioned how reasonable that assumption could be. Katz said Thursday that he would sit down with Dubow and Nutter in the coming weeks and tell them that he hoped to see actual contracts in the next five-year budget.

"The more logical way to do financial planning is also to do collective bargaining and get it in place," Katz said. "We'll have a basis for looking at the next five years, not on assumptions but on actual agreements."


Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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